Tuesday, August 16, 2011

GOLDEN PLACES: Check Out the Exhibits, Charlie Brown!

If you were ask 100 people on the street to pick their favorite Comic Strip growing up, my guess is that over half of them would say the delightful gem that was known as simply: Peanuts.  The daily humorous happenings in the world of Charlie Brown and his circle was a pleasant addition to anyone's morning cup of coffee.  And it was all thanks to one man: Charles M. Schulz (nicknamed "Sparky").  Schulz began his strip back in 1950 and continued until his retirement (and eventual passing) in 2000.  In 1958, Schulz moved his family to Sebastopol, California (which is about an hour outside of San Francisco) and built his first studio.  Almost a decade later, Schulz moved to the nearby Santa Rosa and remained there for the rest of his life.

His influence on the culture of the town of Santa Rosa became clear.  He became owner of the Redwood Empire Ice Arena (he was a huge fan of both figure skating and ice hockey) and the Warm Puppy Cafe which resided within the Arena.  Schulz would have lunch at the Cafe every day.  Both the Ice Arena and the Cafe are still active today right across the street from one of the most impressive little museums I have ever had the pleasure of seeing: The Charles M. Schulz Museum.

The Museum is one of the best tributes to one of America's greatest artists.  Among the many fascinating exhibits are at 22 foot high ceramic mural made of Peanuts comic strips (making the image of Charlie Brown trying to kick the football that is held by Lucy), Schulz' personal home studio and a Research & Educational Center featuring a short demonstration on how to draw your favorite Peanuts characters.  The latter is intended primarily for children, but we adults who grew up with Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus et. al. should get a kick out of it too.  The building's entrance and it's courtyard are filled with statues of Charlie Brown and Snoopy in various instances (i.e. Charlie Brown playing baseball, Snoopy on his doghouse, Snoopy as "the Red Baron" etc.).  One of the best statues is of Charlie Brown unsuccessfully trying to fly a kite which, of course, has landed in a tree.  The Museum docent told us that when the Museum hosts evening parties that the kite (which lies in the courtyard) lights up and provides a beautiful visual for guests and the Santa Rosa neighbors.  The Museum also features exhibits that remain for a limited time.  Our visit featured an exhibit devoted to how the strip displayed the relationship between siblings (Charlie and Sally Brown plus Linus, Lucy and Rerun Van Pelt).  The Museum was working on another exhibit (of which we had a sneak peek!) that featured the early days of the Peanuts comic strip in which Charlie Brown was not the prominent character but more part of a cartoon ensemble.  Check the Museum's website to see what their current rotating exhibits are and for future exhibits.

Overall, the atmosphere of the day at the Charles M. Schulz Museum was nostalgic and fascinating.  The night before I watched video clips online from A Charlie Brown Christmas, Snoopy Come Home and Bon Voyage Charlie Brown! just to get myself in the Peanuts mood.  On the way to the Museum, we listened to the Broadway soundtrack of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown (for which Kristin Chenoweth won a well-deserved Tony Award as Sally, one of my favorite characters!).  And the Museum itself gave me such delight as we combed through the exhibits that featured some of the best moments in the Charlie Brown universe.  Thank You, Sparky, for everything you gave us.  Through your beloved characters, you shall live on forever.

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